Notes: Good grief. I am so, so sorry for keeping you all waiting, but I simply could not get this right. I hereby promise faithfully to never, ever start uploading an unfinished story again - I assure you, I've been just as frustrated as you all have. This has been rewritten so many times; I just hope it was worth it, and that I haven't given anyone ridiculously high expectations by the long delay.
Some weeks later, Numair stood alone on the walls of Pirate's Swoop, gazing reflectively out at the dark sea as the night breeze stirred his clothing. He heard light footsteps behind him but didn't turn around; the newcomer was Alanna, who leaned against the walltop beside him. "I'm surprised to see you up and out; it's the middle of the night."
"Daine's out flying," he explained. "Owl shape."
"And you're not with her?"
"Hawks have terrible night vision. I wouldn't be able to see a thing. She's a much better flier than I am anyway." He looked at his friend. "Why are you awake? It's late."
"It's early, actually," she corrected him dryly. "I don't know, really. I couldn't sleep, and my fidgeting was keeping George awake."
"There's a lot of that going around at the moment," he agreed quietly. Everyone he had spoken to about it was either plagued by nightmares, or just by odd, restless dreams. The war had unsettled everything, at least for those who knew what had really happened. She nodded, and they stood in silence for a while. An owl hooted nearby, and he grinned as he raised his hands to his mouth and responded.
Alanna stared at him. "That's not normal, you know."
"Don't be silly. I've been making animal noises to amuse your children virtually since they were born; why do you think they preferred my bedtime stories to yours?"
She made a face. "Good point. Was that Daine, then?"
"How do you know?"
He shrugged. "I just do."
"What were you saying?"
Amused at finding himself playing teacher once more, Numair smiled. "Nothing, really. Most animals don't have a spoken language, as such; they speak mind to mind. The sounds are... signals, I suppose; warnings to stay away from their territory, or trying to attract a mate, or sometimes just to say that they're present. Audible emotions."
"Is there anything you don't know everything about?"
"The contents of a woman's mind," he replied instantly. "Complete mystery to me, and to every other rational person in the world."
"Very funny." She mock-scowled at him and he smiled back. "You know, I'd forgotten how annoying your grin really is. Can't you go back to being miserable?"
"Apparently not," he replied sorrowfully, shaking his head at her before returning his gaze to the distant ocean. Kitten's mother lay out there somewhere, under the calm waves, and he didn't know who her father was. Her grandparents hadn't mentioned him. Ironic, really, he realised – Daine and Kitten had had very similar starts in life. They had lost their mothers in tragic circumstances and hadn't known their fathers. Filing the thought away for more careful consideration later, he cleared his mind and returned to his silent contemplation; peace was a novelty that had yet to wear off.
Alanna seemed to feel the same; the two of them stood for quite a while without speaking, each lost in their own thoughts. When she finally did break the silence, it caught him by surprise. "We've come a long way, haven't we, Arram?"
Surprised to hear his old name again, he looked down at her and felt himself smiling. "We have, at that," he agreed quietly, thinking back over the years. He grinned. "Remember when we met?"
She snorted. "You attacked me with a knife so rusty and blunt that a spoon would have been more effective, and you were so thin I broke your arm by accident just holding you down, your bones were that brittle. Of course I remember."
"You do realise I was trying to make you kill me, rather than just being stupid, right?" he asked mildly. He didn't much like thinking about that day. He had known he was finally beginning to die, and he had realised that the Lioness was following him; he couldn't have got away without using his Gift, and he had had no intention of being captured, so he'd taken the only way he had left.
"I worked that much out when I had my sword at your throat and you tried to sit up onto the blade." She grinned up at him. "Idiot. I sometimes wonder if I shouldn't have let you."
"But think of all the fun you would have missed out on over the years if you had."
"Fun. Is that what you call it? I can't say I enjoyed most of it. And I don't recall you enjoying it much, either."
"There were a few... memorable moments," he said reflectively, before grinning at her again. "And admit it – can you really see yourself doing anything else?"
Alanna tried to glare at him, but her lips were twitching, and finally she laughed softly. "No, not really. But what about you? We both know you would be locked up in your tower next to a pile of books higher than even your head, if you had your way."
"I'm not sure I would, actually..." he said pensively.
"Oh, really? Locked up with something else, then?"
He started to laugh. "I didn't actually mean that, you know – although it's definitely a thought; I wonder if Jon would agree to let us both stop working and disappear?"
"Pity. Anyway... I don't think I could go back to that sort of life, now. I never thought I would say this, but I think I would actually get bored."
Numair shrugged. "I think so. The past few years have been... fairly strenuous, after all; it's been difficult to settle into a quieter routine, the few chances I've had." He laughed softly. "And come on, Alanna – given the people in my life, I think it's safe to say I'll never get the chance to be bored again." An owl screeched out in the darkness, and he nodded towards the sound. "That was Daine."
"Serves you right." Alanna grinned. "But you've got a point – she did rather turn your life upside down. Not that you seem to be objecting."
He grinned back at her. "Definitely not. I'm ridiculously, nauseatingly happy."
"I'm glad," she told him more seriously, resting a hand on his arm. "You always seemed somehow on the edge of things, before, as if you were never quite sure you belonged."
He nodded slowly. "That's more or less it," he agreed. "But I've found where I belong now."
"Gods, you're right, you are getting nauseating," she laughed, breaking the mood and playfully cuffing his arm. "I'll remember this later, next time you start teasing me."
"I have no doubt of that whatsoever," he agreed dryly, looking down at his oldest friend. "I'd better head back in, I suppose – Kitten's probably awake by now; she doesn't really like being separated from both of us for long, after we vanished so suddenly."
"I can't blame her for that. If it weren't for the badger, I might have thought you'd done it deliberately – you couldn't have caused more chaos if you'd tried." He huffed in mock indignation, and she grinned at him. "That dragon's almost like a child to the pair of you, isn't she?" she added more thoughtfully. "You've been a family for a long time."
He smiled sheepishly. "Tkaa tells me that she calls me Papa," he admitted softly, remembering how pleased he had been when the basilisk had told him.
"All right, I'm as moody and cynical as they come, and even I think that's sweet," Alanna conceded, before grinning impishly at him. "When's she going to get some siblings, then?"
Numair burst out laughing. "You're worse than Thayet, and I didn't think that was humanly possible," he retorted breathlessly when he could speak. "Not for a long time yet, I assure you. Give us a chance – I've got to talk her into marrying me, first!"
She snorted. "You'll nag her into it eventually. Knowing you, you're probably already carrying a ring around with you just in case."
"I am not!" he denied. It was actually in a locked and warded drawer in his desk, but that was completely beside the point. "Anyway, it's only been a couple of months. I'm in no hurry. The whole crowd of you will have to wait a bit longer to indulge yourselves – or," he added as an afterthought, grinning, "you could interfere in each other's lives and leave mine alone for once."
"Never. We get far too much entertainment out of the pair of you to let this drop in a hurry."
"Can't you have some more children or something? That ought to keep you out of the way for a while."
"Watch it, or you're likely to get an owl landing on you from out of thin air."
"She's miles away at the moment, she's used to me, and she's probably fed up with all the gossip as well," he replied mildly, grinning when she gave him an exasperated look.
"Fine then, go off to your blissfully happy existence," she groused. "I'm going to go and complain to my husband." As he turned away, she caught his arm and squeezed lightly. "I am happy for you both, Numair. Really, I am. I even forgive you for lying to me."
"I wasn't lying to you, I was lying to myself," he pointed out logically, smiling at her. "But thank you. I'll see you in the morning."
He was almost asleep when he heard the faint rustle of wings from the open window. Opening one eye, he blinked drowsily and saw Daine's silhouette against the window as she regained human form. "Hello," he told her softly. "Have a nice flight?"
"Oh, yes," she agreed, closing the window and smiling at him over her shoulder. "It's a beautiful night out there. Cold, though."
Taking the hint, he moved over, and she grinned as she slid under the blankets to curl up against him; he smothered a yelp. "Mithros, magelet, you're freezing. Are you mad?"
"Wimp." She snuggled closer, and he relented and wrapped his arms around her. "What were you and Alanna talking about?"
"Oh, the usual. Life, the universe and everything." He closed his eyes. "Us, mainly. She's finally got used to the idea, I think – or at least, she's forgiven us for surprising her. The Lioness has never liked surprises."
"True." She began absently tracing patterns on his chest with her fingertips, and he shivered.
"Your fingers are icy," he complained, catching her wrist.
"So warm me up, then," Daine replied mischievously, smiling at him.
Smiling back at her, he lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed her fingers, her skin cold on his lips. "Gladly," he murmured, shifting closer as she reached to kiss him. As the kiss deepened, he reflected that what he had said to Alanna was absolutely right – he had found where he belonged.
Well, there you have it. I'm not entirely sure this was worth the wait! Shamelessly corny, I know, but you should all expect that from me by now - I do like my happy endings. I think we've come full circle with some Numair/Alanna banter at the Swoop, hence my little bit of nostalgia (and possibly some foreshadowing of my Arram stories, if you squint).
This is the last TP story you're going to be seeing from me for a long time, I'm sorry to say. That Arram story I just mentioned is in development, but there are a lot of other fics from other genres that I want to tackle first. I'll still be updating Lacunae every so often, and you can keep an eye on the Works in Progress section on my profile to see what I'm working on at the moment; I haven't gone anywhere, I promise.
I want to thank all my readers, especially those who take the time to review. You guys are awesome, and it really does mean a lot to me. I hope to see you all soon.